Wheaton College’s Obscure Mission

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Published on: June 1, 2015

“The greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths.” –William James

Our friend Michael Ware reports that Wheaton College, my alma mater (and Billy Graham’s), has recognized a homosexual organization on campus.

This is the latest symptom of this supposedly orthodox evangelical institution having no clear mission or, to put another way, having no clarity about its true mission.  The previous symptoms — the many attempts to integrate secular nonsense with a Biblical world view, where world views (as opposed to historical traditions) are, in the first place, just more rationalist nonsense — is analyzed in my book The Problem with Wheaton: A Postmodern Analysis of the Christian Academy’s Failure to Challenge the Culture (available on Amazon.com). 

Michael Ware has already suggested the obvious question of why, if a campus organization is warranted to help students wrestling with sodomy resist their sinful condition, there would not be many more such organizations for supporting resistance to other sins such as heterosexual lust, fornication, gluttony, sloth, vanity, envy, ambition, and maybe even rationalist pride.  If the sincere purpose of the administration in establishing such a student organization is to overcome the sin by which it is identified, rather than just cave into the unrelenting demand to substitute niceness for goodness, then many such unions should be created and the chest beating should go on day and night.  This might be more spiritually productive, after all, than urban studies, or modern reductionist social science or, more generally, scientific realism (the notion that science is a literal description of Reality) as a badge of sophistication worn for a world which is merely amused at the harmless mouse the Christian academy has become.

Obviously Wheaton must consider homosexual students a special case of the sinful human condition which warrants special respect and concern.  In other words, it is just another stab at political correctness based on a secular standard of reasonableness.  Apparently Wheaton now knowingly matriculates homosexual students. 

Indeed, Mr. Ware reports that two homosexual leaders on campus have argued that their homosexuality is critical to their faith; that homosexuality correlates with fundamental aspects of a truly Christian spirit.  In effect, homosexuals make better Christians.  This is just breathtaking.  The liberality of Wheaton at this point is verging on the grandiose, rooted in its faith in the classical, liberal conception of universal reason, fruitioning into the integration of anything with faith. 

The failure to immediately discipline this kind of reasoning right off of campus reveals just how culturally emasculated, and in that sense, irrelevant to the redemption of this culture, Wheaton has become.   The whole idea that homosexuals, by nature, are better than straight people at realizing Christian virtues and spirituality is chauvinist to an absurd degree.  Many homosexuals would probably agree.  If Wheaton cannot finally discipline this kind of reasoning, queer or straight, by removing it, it is lost. 

If Wheaton encourages students to be rationally autonomous in the sense of promoting the liberal, Enlightenment myth of tradition-independent reason, which is essential to this pseudo-dramatic, pseudo-substantial integration of faith with all kinds of modern “learning” and liberality, then do not be surprised if they stray from orthodoxy on their way to becoming completely independent with their very own account of “Christian” reason. 

The “integration of faith and learning” is a strange and finally unintelligible stage for this kind of phenomenon; a combination of the myth of universal reason, encouraging the liberal autonomy of individuals who are superior by virtue of tapping into it, and a simultaneous attempt to be subservient to tradition.  This is impossible.  It is nothing but confusion.

Wheaton is living in the past.  It is not actually very sophisticated.  It lacks postmodern sophistication.  It has chased down modern reason only to find that it is intellectually banal and morally impotent.  Wheaton has lost the culture war.  It surrendered to a rationalist myth before the battle even began.  If reason transcends all rival traditions, then moral reason becomes autonomous. 

The irony is intense.  In its attempt to find a sophisticated position in modern culture, Wheaton becomes little more than a cuckold, seduced and then finally abandoned by the version of reason it has been so desperate to impress.  It catches up to modern reason, and starts to exhibit its moral confusion, at the edge of its grave.  The question is whether or not the momentum will result in Wheaton falling into the same hole and getting buried with it. 

Wheaton is not leading.  It is following.  It is following some of the most pretentious, morally empty, and now discredited culture ever invented by the world.  It is not a traditionalist institution in any sophisticated postmodern sense.  The “integration mission” (as opposed to the deconstruction mission) makes no sense without the modern account of reason (as universal standards).  But what is the clear connection between this account of reason and orthodoxy?

When explicitly confronted by it, surely Wheaton would reject this mission:

(M1) To make students rationally autonomous on the basis of universal standards of rational justification. 

In other words, to teach kids how to think based on the myth that reason is universally the same; to realize the western liberal, rationalist vision.  M1 is anchored in the notion that universal reason is real and all of the learning it implies is true.

But then Wheaton would probably also reject this mission:

(M2) To indoctrinate students in the orthodox Christian tradition and then teach them to deconstruct (recognize the incommensurateness of) the modern account of reason, the modern account of science, the modern account of “facts”, the modern account of religion, and all of the reductionist cultural artifacts generated by them.  

If Wheaton is frightened by both missions, what clear mission does it have?  M1 and M2 are logically and practically (operationally) incompatible. 

Wheaton wants to play with modern reason as the cornerstone of the liberal arts.  It wants to hold on to the myth of universal reason as the foundation of the modern Christian academy while still separating real learning based on real universal standards of rational justification from invalid learning based on invalid standards of rational justification.  After all, it cannot embrace Freud’s view of religion, or totally random mutation, and still expect us to consider it a Christian institution.   

But then what are the competing standards of rational justification making selective integration possible?  Wheaton, in its modern pseudo-sophistication, is not supposed to have competing standards of rational justification.   In that case, integration is dead.  If Wheaton’s competing standards (making, e.g., the doctrine of the trinity coherent and leading to the rejection of at least some of the more egregious scientistic reductions) are tradition-bound then Wheaton has rejected the notion that learning proceeds independently of tradition-relative standards or therefore needs to be “integrated.”  Is logical integration the integration of competing standards of rational justification?  How could that be?

Wheaton, standing in between an Enlightenment, liberal conception of reason and the orthodox Christian tradition, has no clear, consistent set of rational standards and has no clear mission.  The practical result of the modern “integration of faith and learning” language game is individualism and subjectivism — queer and straight students picking and choosing what truth they will without traditional discipline.  This is what Protestant rationalism has come to.  Protestant liberals (see Art Holmes as the apologist for the notion that “all truth is God’s truth” where most truth is a product of universal reason) think it was terrible for the Catholic Church to discipline Galileo.  But then this simply buys into the naïve liberal notion that reason and the data asymmetrically speak for themselves, without any need of traditional discipline; that there is some stable basis in experience and reason for just one world view.   This is modern nonsense.  And if Einstein is right then Galileo was technically wrong. 

What the Catholic Church was really concerned about is facts about Reality.  Galileo’s observations were not about whether or not man is at the center of God’s purposes.  It was and is very important for the church to make sure that any Galileo does not imply that they are.  And it is very important for Wheaton to reject, as non-traditional, the ridiculous notion that homosexuals make better Christians or deserve special treatment as sinners.  Wheaton has lost its reason.  Or rather, it never knew what its reason was in the first place.

In my book, The Problem with Wheaton, I offer a new charter for a new, postmodern and orthodox Christian Academy.  Wheaton will not adopt it as long as it cannot find its way to explicitly deconstructing modern reason and its tendency to produce “rationally autonomous”, as opposed to tradition-bound, students.  The charter is designed for a new Christian academy which will explicitly compete with Wheaton.  The clear mission of this new, traditionalist Christian academy is the deconstruction of modern learning.  This mission is, apparently, much too intellectually sophisticated for Wheaton.  It is no wonder that evangelical academics have not made much of an impression on the world.  They are petrified by the kind of radicalism the world needs.

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